Hearty Delights Five interesting foods to explore on date night

020615_valentinesWhether you live for culinary adventure or unfamiliar items on your plate make you nervous, trying new foods is a worthwhile endeavor. But even avid foodies don’t have the time to try everything.

So how can you prioritize your food bucket list?

Enter “1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die,” a new book that presents the globe’s must-have foods into one master list of the best dishes, ingredients, restaurants, markets, books and movies that everyone should experience.

To whet your appetite, author Mimi Sheraton, former New York Times restaurant critic and award-winning cookbook author, shares five food must-haves originating from five regions of the world. Try any of these the next time you go out:


White Asparagus

Egg Cream




Nothing To Lose Terps guard Jacob Susskind ‘walks on’ to basketball success


Jacob Susskind shows his skills in a game earlier this season against Wagner College. (Maryland Athletics)

Despite three recent losses on the road, the University of Maryland men’s basketball team is riding high, having gone into Week 13 of its season with a No. 17 ranking in the Associated Press poll and an 18-4 overall record. Prior to the team’s game against Northwestern University on Jan. 25, which the Terps won, 68-67, in a heart-pounding finish, guard Jacob Susskind sat down with the JT.

The 6-foot-4 senior hails from West Orange, N.J., where he graduated from the Golda Och Academy, formerly a Solomon Schechter Day School, and attended Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston, N.J.

He is the only Jewish member of the team, a fact he trumpeted to the world when he entered Midnight Madness this year to the tune of “Hava Negilla” — his mother’s request.

“She’d been bugging me for years, so finally, for senior year, I said OK,” he said.

You were being looked at by the Ivy League and Patriot League and yet you came to Maryland as a walk-on. What led up to that?
In my senior year of high school I tore my ACL, so after that, pretty much all the recruiting stopped because I wasn’t playing. After that, Division III schools were still looking at me, but I wanted to go to a big school. I applied to Maryland and got in, and then my brother gave me the idea to try and walk on for the team. He said, ‘You got nothing to lose.’ I contacted the coaches — I wasn’t even fully healed when I met them — and then I came in at the beginning of the school year, and [after] a couple individual workouts, they kept asking me back.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to say, ‘You know what? I could be on a Division I team?’ Where does that confidence come from?
Probably from both my parents. My dad played basketball at Muhlenberg, which is Division III. He also played tennis there, so he’s really into sports. He’s a winner at heart; he always wants to win. The last time we were playing one-on-one full court — I think I was 14 — I was winning, and I had a lay-up to win the game. But he grabs my jersey — this is my own dad — and throws me to the ground so I wouldn’t score. And he ended up beating me. My mom is an ovarian cancer survivor, and just the drive she’s shown over the past nine years raising over $1 million for ovarian cancer research through a 5K run she put together [is] probably where I get all my motivation, my drive.

How have you been involved with your mother’s fundraising efforts?
I gave all of my teammates “Suss & Us” shirts, which is our cancer team’s name, and we took pictures. And social media kind of blew up and helped raise a lot of money. Maryland basketball [also got] involved, which is nice because it’s such a big name. People started seeing it and started to understand the different things that might happen with ovarian cancer. To get on this scale, to reach a lot of people who don’t know a lot about it is great.

You made it through all the tryouts, you’re on the team. How do you mesh with your teammates?
My freshman year definitely started off tough. I think a lot of the players thought I didn’t belong — I was dragging my knee around because I couldn’t really move. But finally I got healthy. This is probably the best year it’s been with a group of guys who respect each other and want to win and who like each other on and off the court.

Last spring, there were a lot of changes. Maryland was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, and then a bunch of your teammates transferred. What was the feeling in the locker room?
The locker room was fine. We don’t like to talk about what happened last year. We just kept moving forward, and we knew that we were going to be fine. We knew that we had great freshmen coming in and we had transfers coming in who were going to help us. And from the way we’ve been playing this season, [they have] helped a lot.

Before the season started, several reporters who cover the Big Ten picked Maryland to finish 10th.
Tenth, and now they’re saying we’re going to win it, so it’s awesome.

“This is probably the best year it’s been with a group of guys who respect each other and want to win and who like each other on and off the court.”

How do the national rankings play into how the team feels? Or does it?
I don’t think it does that much. It definitely changes the way the fans act, but I think that we definitely have our heads on straight. We do want to get that championship.

Maryland recently had a tough loss at Indiana. What happened?
Indiana played very well. They could have beaten any team in the country [that night]. They hit shots. We usually play better defense, and people don’t usually shoot like Indiana did against us. We’re playing them again [Feb. 11]. They’re going to come here, and it’s going to be a completely different game. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll win that game.

What is it like to play at home in the Xfinity Center when it’s full?
It’s awesome. It’s loud. We played Duke there two years ago and we beat them, and I remember that the sound system in the building actually started to fail because it was so loud. It was just awesome to hear people screaming. It gives me the chills.

Any big games coming up?
Honestly, we just play it game by game, so our next game is our biggest game.

The Terps won the national championship in 2002. Can you do it again this year?
Well, there are a couple of championships. We already brought home one championship from Kansas City earlier this season [the CBE Hall of Fame Classic]. The Big Ten’s regular season championship is the only one we’re looking for right now. And then the Big Ten tournament — we’re looking for that one too. We did have a team meeting about how we could win the three championships we have left, including the national championship. [We] could definitely make a run and shock some people.

One of your brothers is a sophomore at Maryland and another is in high school. Is your younger brother interested in sports?
He’s an all-around athlete. [Everybody in] my family is an all-around athlete. My mom constantly tells everyone that I get my basketball skills from her because she played going into eighth grade. I think my brother has been playing really well this season for [Golda Och Academy]. He could definitely play somewhere [in college].

What are your post-college plans?
I’m applying to different jobs. I did five years of school in four years. I did 150 credits instead of 120, so I’m getting two degrees [in accounting and finance]. Right now, I have an offer from a commercial real estate firm in D.C., but I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I’m still weighing my options, seeing what’s the best fit for me.

Do you plan to be involved with sports after college?
Definitely. I see myself playing basketball — or any sport — as long as my body holds up.

Are you involved with Jewish life on campus?
I’m in a Jewish fraternity, AEPi. I go to Chabad and I talk to the rabbi. I see him for all of the holidays, I go there for Shabbat sometimes for dinner, so I’m pretty involved.

Spring into Performing Arts Baltimore’s hot performing arts scene warms up the start of the spring season

Ronen Koresh, artistic director of the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia. (Photos provided)

Ronen Koresh (bottom left), artistic director of the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia. (Photos provided)

The Jewish community will take an active role in the Baltimore County Dance Celebration, Feb. 1 to March 9, when the Gordon Center of Performing Arts plays host to many events including four major performances, dance workshops, seminars and smaller ensemble and solo performances.

“We are thrilled to shine a spotlight on dance this February with an eclectic array of riveting, hypnotic dance programs,” said Randi Benesch, managing director of the Gordon Center. “From amateur to professional performances, from dance improvisation to hip hop and tap, from modern to jazz to ballet, there is something for everyone and we hope you’ll take a leap with us!”

A series highlight is the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia, in residency beginning Feb. 24 and performing on Saturday, Feb. 28. Visiting in partnership with the Baltimore County Public Schools, company members will teach master classes to Baltimore County middle and high school students during their stay.

Koresh artistic director Ronen Koresh, 53, was born and raised in Israel and was first exposed to dance at age 10 thanks to his mother, an Israeli folk dancer and member of a Tel Aviv-based Yemenite folk dance group. Soon Koresh became known as a “street dancer,” dancing at parties and clubs, eventually becoming a student of jazz and ballet. He choreographed his first piece at age 16, with 40 girls who performed the dance at a local soccer field. He later joined Martha Graham’s Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s premier dance company.

After mandatory army service Koresh immigrated to the U.S. in 1983 and trained with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. In 1984, he began performing with Shimon Braun’s acclaimed Waves Jazz Dance Company in Philadelphia. Koresh taught at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 1985 and was asked to choreograph for an ensemble in 1987.

Koresh, who founded his company in 1991, is not bound by allegiance to any single dance tradition, regularly drawing on modern, jazz and ballet and a range of musical styles to provide audiences a unique and accessible experience.

“We deal a lot with humanity,” said Koresh. “Relationships — person to person, community to community, senses, feelings. We are not too sublime or too abstract. Everything is based in emotion, so you can feel, you can relate to [the dance]. You don’t feel dumb.”

Koresh’s music choice is as eclectic as his choreography.

“We don’t shy away from anything — world music, classical, the mystery of other cultures and languages,” he said. “They trigger the imagination.”

Asya Zlatina has been dancing with the Koresh Dance Company for the past seven years. A Maryland native and Goucher College graduate, Zlatina is looking forward to returning to her home turf. Zlatina, 27, credited Goucher’s dance department with much of her success.

“My teachers invested a lot in me,” she noted.

Zlatina also praised Koresh, who gave her an apprenticeship with the company at age 20, lauding his emphasis on real-life experience and emotional connection, in order to create powerful dance.

“We are always very physical, very emotional,” she explained. “It can be draining because it is about relationships and pieces of our own lives. It is not about fairy-tales. Roni doesn’t do cheesy. He does real life. He is very influenced by his Israeli roots.”

Koresh would likely agree with Zlatina’s analysis.

“In Israel, there is an urgency. We are just trying to survive. Some people think Israelis are rude, but it is just that we are always going to the heart of it, moving forward, dealing with the subject, not going around it,” he said. “Israeli culture has a lot of passion, it is very open, aggressive, in your face.”

Koresh claims that is why Israeli choreographers are at the forefront of modern dance, they straight to the heart. He also believes dance has changed with the times.

“Before, dance was too slow. That’s why a lot of people fell asleep in the 1990s,” he said, pointing to historically diminished ticket sales and the focus dance demands from its audience. But, he added, “they don’t fall asleep in my shows. If anything, they wake you up.”

Amy Herzog (Photo provided)

Amy Herzog (Photo provided)

The Play’s The Thing
In preparation for the spring season, Baltimore’s theater companies unveiled details for their 2015 production schedules. Offerings are diverse and eclectic, with a mix of classic, contemporary, experimental and in some cases, offbeat. And Charm City’s upcoming theatrical season is not lacking in Jewish-themed plays, Jewish actors or directors.

Especially significant is Center Stage’s Amy Herzog Festival. Center Stage’s dramaturge, Gavin Witt, explained the decision to produce two of Herzog’s plays, “After the Revolution” (2010) and “4000 Miles” (2011) this spring. Both plays are based upon the playwright’s own family history, in particular her Jewish Marxist grandparents.

“Amy [Herzog’s plays] very quickly became one of the candidates. Part of it was that [artistic director], Kwame [Kwei-Armah] became interested in introducing Baltimore to an emerging voice in theater,” he said. “Amy just had a surge of productions and performances and her plays suit us. They are rooted enough in psychology, in human relationships but also deal with civic and political issues. That has always been a touchstone for us.”

Witt described how the two family saga plays work well together, even though written in different styles. One is a sweeping epic and the other is an intimate play, featuring a small cast and taking place in one isolated time period. Viewing the two plays, audience members can experience the historical arc of the 20th century from the 1930s, the New Deal, and Jewish left aspiring socialists, and then into the blacklists of the 1950s and the disillusionment of that time. Together, the plays illustrate how much things change and how people experience history differently.

Witt added, “It’s such an interesting kaleidoscope of America.”

Members of Baltimore’s Jewish community will also be pleased by Vagabond Players’ production of “Side by Side by Sondheim,” a beloved musical revue featuring music from legendary Jewish composer, Stephen Sondheim’s most popular shows including “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “A Funny Thing Happened,” “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”

The play is the directorial debut of Pikesville native and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation board member Shannon Wollman, 46, who is also known for her roles in “Evita,” “Funny Girl,” “Next to Normal,” “Gypsy” and many others.

“With age and experience, I’ve gotten a lot of ideas,” said Wollman. “When you’re a performer, you have to quell those ideas, because you are not the director. Finally I said, ‘It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.’ This will teach me if I really love directing or, I might say, ‘Better leave directing to others.’”

Wollman said it’s perfect timing for “Side by Side” because Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is now in theaters.

“And I love Vagabond, the intimacy of the space,” she concluded. “I’m very excited!”

Emily Hearn (Photo provided)

Emily Hearn (Photo provided)

Fine Tuning
Now in its third season, Eutaw Place is a unique venue that showcases indie singer/songwriters and local talent.

On March 14, Eutaw Place, located in the lower level of the historic Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill, welcomes Emily Hearn, 24, to its stage. A native of Georgia, Hearn taught herself guitar in her senior year in high school. Her freshman year at the University of Georgia, she began writing songs and has performed professionally for four years. Hearn’s success as a professional musician came as something of a surprise to her.

“When I applied to college I wanted to study journalism,” she said. “But a group of friends at college had a big party every semester and they asked me to play. I got a good reception.”

She said Athens was a welcoming music scene, so she played locally and at nearby college towns, and eventually at bigger regional venues.

Hearn said her music is influenced by indy rock bands, as well as by other women singer/songwriters such as Brandy Carlisle and, naturally, Taylor Swift. She also listens to a lot of jazz, especially the vocal music of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

About her own music, she said, “It’s a mix of Americana, country but it comes out more pop.”

In 2012, Hearn married musician and songwriter Michael Harrison and now the couple writes and performs together.

“I’m very creative and spacey, my ideas kind of float around — and he’s very focused,” Hearn explained. “I actually enjoy writing with him even more than writing by myself. Before, I mostly wrote about relationships and heartbreak. It was draining to perform [those songs]. Michael brought a male perspective. Now we tackle bigger issues.”

In March 2015, Hearn’s first album, “Hourglass” will be released.

“All the songs are based on growing up and life lessons,” said Hearn. “The title, from a lyric in one of the songs, signifies the passage of time.”

Also performing at Eutaw Place on March 14 is singer/songwriter, Luke Brindley and on Feb. 14, Eutaw Place will feature Tony Lucca in a special Valentine’s Day concert, complete with wine-tasting. April 18, indy/ folk/Americana music duo Dawn & Hawkes help Eutaw Place celebrate its third anniversary.

The Jerusalem Quartet (Felix Broede)

The Jerusalem Quartet (Felix Broede)

Chamber Notes
Chamber music fans will enjoy the Gordon Center’s Winter Chamber Music Series: “From Darkness to Light,” featuring two concerts by the Aura Nova Ensemble that traces the history of Jewish music from the 19th Century to modern times.

On Feb. 8, the ensemble will perform music by Ernest Bloch, Jonathon Leshnoff, Gideon Klein, Gustav Mahler and Dimitri Shostakovich.

“After the formation of the German Weimar Republic following World War I and with the rise of Nazism and later, Stalinism, the political and social clouds in Europe grew ominously dark,” said founder and Aura Nova violinist, Mark Singer. “With the Nazi takeover of the German government in 1933, Jewish participation in musical culture came to a standstill. Those that could, fled, but many others perished, and Continental Europe’s loss was Great Britain, Israel and America’s gain as many musicians found havens in these three countries.”

Other chamber music events include a concert by the internationally renowned Jerusalem Quartet on Feb. 15 at Shriver Hall. The quartet performs Joseph Haydn’s Quartet Op. 74 No. 3 in G Minor, “Rider;” Erwin Schulhoff’s “Five Pieces for String Quartet” and Franz Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden.”

An annual favorite, International Guitar Night at the Gordon Center returns Feb. 7, and Israeli pop star, Rami Kleinstein will perform there on March 19.



Jewish Women Persevere Behind the Camera 2014 was a good year for female filmmakers

Morena Baccarin (as Rachel) and Rebecca Ferguson (as Dinah) star in “The Red Tent.”

Morena Baccarin (as Rachel) and Rebecca Ferguson (as Dinah) star in “The Red Tent.”

Surpassing $3 million in box office receipts, writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s feature debut “Obvious Child” was one of the surprise indie hits of last year.

Not bad for a low-budget movie about a struggling New York Jewish comic (played by Jenny Slate) who mines her awkward personal life — including the decision to have an abortion — for material.

Funny and poignant, “Obvious Child” marked a rare breakthrough for a female Jewish director. Remarkably, it wasn’t the only one in 2014.

Israeli writer-director Talya Lavie’s marvelous debut, “Zero Motivation,” won six Israeli Film Academy Awards, toured the U.S. film festival circuit and is in the midst of a limited theatrical run. A satiric and biting saga of female friendship, support and sabotage among admins on an army base in the middle of nowhere, “Zero Motivation” announces a significant talent.

It scarcely needs to be noted that narrative feature filmmaking remains an overwhelmingly male domain. Even young women directors with certified success and talent, like Robespierre and Lavie, have a tougher time developing (that is, funding) their next features than promising male directors.

It’s not fair, nor is it new. But it does explain why women filmmakers gravitate to documentaries, and cable television.

Lucia Puenzo is writer and  director of “The German Doctor.”

Lucia Puenzo is writer and
director of “The German Doctor.”

Lena Dunham continues to acquire acolytes and detractors with “Girls,” which begins its fourth season this month on HBO (and has just been given the OK for a fifth). Creative freedom was likewise an incentive for Jill Soloway (the 2013 feature “Afternoon Delight”) to write and produce her well-reviewed new series, “Transparent,” for Amazon Prime.

The common thread running through these projects, in addition to female creators, is irreverent comedy. Humor does not receive the respect (and budgets) that serious drama enjoys, but Robespierre et al are no doubt sustained by the fact that it is often more subversive, effective and influential.

Including Jewish women in front of the camera, television also gave us “The Red Tent,” a Lifetime miniseries that placed the peripheral Biblical figure Dinah at the center of a certain eventful period in Jewish history.

On the big screen, Polish-born director Pawel Pawlikowski’s wrenching black-and-white “Ida” — a near-certainty for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film — which is now streaming on Netflix, follows a cynical Polish judge and her convent-raised niece, who’s just been told she’s Jewish, on a road trip in the 1960s.

The talented Argentine novelist and filmmaker Lucia Puenzo enjoyed almost as much international acclaim with “The German Doctor,” a restrained thriller that imagines Josef Mengele on the loose in the early ’60s.

Talya Lavie is writer and director of “Zero Motivation.”

Talya Lavie is writer and director of “Zero Motivation.”

The riveting Israeli courtroom drama “Gett: The Trial of Vivian Absalem” premiered at Cannes last year but will hit most Americans’ radar when it rolls into theatres in February and March. Siblings Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz (she also stars) portray the often-torturous process through which an Israeli woman obtains a divorce in this masterful, minimalist work.

As the book closes on 2014, Lauren Bacall, Joan Rivers and Polly Bergen are remembered. Raise a glass, as well, to the late pianist and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer, the subject of the Academy Award winner for Documentary Short Subject, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.”

Turning to 2015, Israeli actress Natalie Portman makes her feature directorial debut with “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” adapted from her countryman Amos Oz’s memoir. Writer-director Rebecca Miller directs Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore and Clive Owen in the young-woman-
in-the-city drama “Maggie’s Plan.” (The accomplished Miller is still described occasionally as the daughter of the late playwright Arthur Miller and the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis).

Keep an eye out for Sarah Silverman’s dramatic turn as a spiraling, out-of-control suburban mother in “I Smile Back,” which premieres at Sundance. Writer-director Amy Heckerling, a Hollywood Jewish icon although her work doesn’t explore Jewish characters or themes, returns in the fall with “The Intern,” a comedy with Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo and Robert DeNiro about a fashion website that hires an elderly intern.

“Ida” is an Academy Award front-runner.

“Ida” is an Academy Award front-runner.

Finally, in the “I’ll Believe It When I See It” category, Barbara Streisand is supposedly planning to direct a drama about the relationship between Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell.

The list of documentaries by or about Jewish women in 2014 is lengthy and impressive. Two currently available on Netflix include Israeli director Hilla Medalia’s cross-cultural and cross-generational “Dancing in Jaffa” and Cecilia Peck’s memorable character study “Brave Miss World.” The latter film, about an Israeli beauty queen turned anti-rape activist, will screen at the Air Force Academy in the spring.

Jerry Coleman Diary of a Ravens beat reporter

Jerry Coleman says, “Getting to know the athletes, the coaches and members of the Ravens and Orioles front office as people and not just someone you see on TV,” is his favorite part of the job.

Jerry Coleman says, “Getting to know the athletes, the coaches and members of the Ravens and Orioles front office as people and not just someone you see on TV,” is his favorite part of the job.

For most fans, spending every day at the Baltimore Ravens Under Armor Performance Center in Owning Mills watching the team practices would be a dream job. As the Ravens beat reporter for WJZ-FM 105.7 The Fan, that is just what Jerry Coleman does everyday during the season. But the job isn’t all glamour.

“I get up at 2 am and begin to review the news from the night before and preview the events of the day ahead. I am at the station by 4 a.m. and ready to go on the air with Ed Norris and Steve Davis when they begin ‘The Norris and Davis in the Morning’ show at 6 a.m. every weekday morning,” Coleman said. “I do my 12 sports reports as part of the program, then I head out to the Ravens camp, cover the practices and do interviews to be used on all of our shows. So, I am home by around 7 p.m. on a normal day.”

Coleman is considered one of the best reporters in the business because he never shies away from asking tough questions. Whether it’s at practice or after a game at M&T Bank Stadium, Coleman makes sure fans know what is on the minds of the players and the coaches.

The Pikesville native, who was bar mitzvahed at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation 34 years ago, attended Wellwood Elementary, Pikesville Middle and Senior High, where he graduated in 1986. It was at Pikesville Senior High School where he began his radio career, broadcasting to a very limited audience.

“My career started by doing the public address for the PHS basketball team. I also presented the school’s morning announcements,” said Coleman. “I realized quite early I wasn’t going to make it as an athlete so this was the best alternative to stay around sports, learn the communications business and make it my career.”

After graduating from Ithaca College, Coleman worked as an intern for Stan “the Fan” Charles on his radio show in Baltimore. He moved on to some small market radio stations; first in Bel Air, and then in Rockville when through Metro Networks he got a job at WTOP, one of the country’s most respected all-news radio stations.

“After getting my break at WTOP and gaining some great experience, I was able to return to Baltimore in 2000 to work at 98 Rock and WBAL 1090 AM. First I did sports on the 98 Rock Morning Show and later moved down the hall to do sports reports on the WBAL Morning Show,” said Coleman. “I made the move to the All Sports Radio format in 2006 – 2008
as the Washington Redskins beat reporter for Sports Talk 980 AM. In 2008, John Harbaugh was hired by the Ravens as their head coach and I started hosting my own show Monday through Friday, afternoon drive time talk show, ‘Sports With Coleman,’ on FOX Sports Radio 1370 AM in Baltimore. Then in the summer of 2011, FOX Sports Radio 1370 AM, changed formats and I moved to my present role as the morning sports reporter for ‘Norris and Davis in the Morning,’ 105.7 The Fan Baltimore and the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter. For me it is a ‘dream gig’ to be able to cover my hometown teams, especially when they win.”

To be a successful beat reporter like Coleman, it all comes down to relationships. One of the reason’s Coleman is considered one of the top radio beat reporters in the country is because he has the trust of the Ravens and the Orioles, players, coaches and front office executives. Coleman was quick to point out that part of the job was his favorite thing about being a beat reporter.

“Getting to know the athletes, the coaches and members of the Ravens and Orioles front office as people and not just someone you see on TV is very important to me. I always try my best to treat everyone fairly and with respect, we sometimes may disagree, but it is always done respectfully. Those relationships I make in this business are key to my job,” he said. “The people I cover remain part of my world long after their playing and coaching careers are over or if they move to another team. That is how you survive in this business by earning and getting the respect of the people you work with and cover on a daily basis over the years.”

Coleman hopes someday to return to being a full-time talk show host, but for now he is very happy following the Ravens and Orioles. With the Ravens’ season over, he now heads to College Park to keep fans up to date on the University of Maryland men’s and women’s basketball teams as they finish their first season as members of the Big Ten conference. Hopefully, both will move on to the NCAA Tournament, which would take Coleman right into Orioles spring training in Florida. Life as a beat reporter is seldom boring.

Holiday Lessons Keeping the old while bringing in the new

012315_holiday_lessons_blueberry_cakeSome things never change, and I’m so glad. From the mouth-watering brisket at Edmart Deli to Rosendorf’s challahs, most Baltimore Jews go back to their traditional buying habits, even if they had indulged in “new” cuisine over the New Year. I spend my food shopping days purposely seeking out new things. But I forgot the old saying that “everything old is new again.” I hadn’t been to the Knish Shop in decades, but someone mentioned they have great sushi and cookies. And their chocolate chip cookies are as good, if not better, than my own homemade.

It’s hard to find fault with any kosher dishes at David Chu’s, especially its eggplant and sushi selections. And the service is A-plus. I’ve never been to Serengeti’s, although I hear it is wonderful. I’m just glad that finally Baltimore has decent kosher choices when dining out or in. I’m awaiting a kosher Mexican restaurant with some real authentic dishes.

So what are we expecting as far as 2015 food trends? Roasted beets, pears and duck recipes will become much more popular as will pulled brisket sandwiches. California, as usual, is ahead of us. When visiting my sister in December, we went to a favorite restaurant and found a new item on the menu, brisket sliders — pulled brisket served with a choice of chipotle-cherry or habanero-peach barbeque sauce on the side. When making your own, try some spice rubs, which can flavor and tenderize many cuts of meat.

Most importantly, presentation, even in an ordinary recipe, can enhance any Shabbat table. Here are a few new twists I discovered during the holidays.

Orange Marinated Olives

Sephardic Chopped Salad Drizzle

Fresh Blueberry Cake With Crumb Topping


Singer-Songwriter Finds His Voice Jesse Macht gained inspiration from tribulation

Jesse Macht (Photos provided)

Jesse Macht (Photos provided)

For singer-songwriters, tragedy can become fertile ground for creative inspiration. In Jesse Macht’s case, a brush with mortality and the end of long-term relationship was all he needed to jumpstart his career.

After discovering that he had a heart condition that gave him an extra electric impulse that caused his heart to beat at 260 beats per minute, he had to have his heart electro-shocked to essentially short out the extra impulse.

“That experience sort of tripped me up, and I said, ‘OK, if this is what you’re going to do, you have to dive in,’” he said.

Weeks later, his longtime girlfriend broke up with him.

“Two intense punches,” Macht, 31, said. “That was a broken literal heart and a broken figurative heart all in a matter of a month.”

The band he was playing with had recently broken up, and although he was feeling a bit lost in his career, he went back to the drawing board to write songs, wrote with others and attended songwriting workshops to get back on track.

Armed with new material and a producer he met at a showcase, he made the album “Suitcase Heart,” released this past fall, a poignant, emotional album with a big sound. He plays an invitation-only house concert in Baltimore on Saturday, Jan. 24.

011615_rocker2“His voice is beautiful to start with, but his music is really capturing,” said Susan Macht, a distant cousin, who is hosting the house concert. “He doesn’t just play music, he talks; he tells you why he wrote this song.”

For Macht, who grew up in Los Angeles, entertaining runs in the family. His father, Stephen Macht, has been acting since the late 1960s and has been on “General Hospital” and numerous other TV shows and in movies. Jesse’s brother, Gabriel, who is 11 years older than Jesse, stars on the USA series “Suits.” So from a young age, Macht knew his family was in the show biz.

While he has done some acting and still goes to acting auditions, Macht gravitated toward music.

“The guitar gave me an opportunity to express myself at any moment,” he said.

Macht can somewhat trace his singing back to synagogue. He attended a day school from pre-K through eighth grade, and he wasn’t much of a fan of having to attend services three times a week.

“I would harmonize with all the prayers, and that was my way of having fun, I think,” he said. “I was sort of learning that innate way of harmonizing with the ear.”

He played piano growing up and, later, guitar. Although his parents didn’t listen to any pop music, Macht would later discover some of his biggest influences including Billy Joel, Tom Petty and more recent songwriters such as Ryan Adams and Dawes.

011615_rocker3“I really try to be as genuine as possible, trying my patience, my confidence, my creativity,” he said. “I’m looking for things in my life that really do make me feel emotional, do make me feel human. I try to give in to that sensitivity, step on the wound and see what comes out.”

His show at his cousin’s house comes in the middle of an East Coast run that includes shows in New York, Philadelphia, Columbia and York, Pa.

Later this year, Macht will release a Valentine’s Day song with a music video and another single, both of which will be paired with a holiday song he released this past year, “This Light,” on a forthcoming EP.

From there, he is looking to book a European tour since he has some fans there who have only seen him in live streamed performances.

“I’m trying to organize house concerts and venues,” he said. “Whatever comes next.”


A Perfect Pitch

Cuban  Connie Marrero played  for the Washington Senators in the 1950s.

Cuban Connie Marrero played
for the Washington Senators in the 1950s.

To the dismay of baseball fan Kit Krieger, future travels to Cuba will no longer include get-togethers with ex-Washington Senators pitcher Connie Marrero.

Marrero, who played for Washington from 1950 to 1954, died in Havana last April at age 102, a few months after Krieger’s last visit and three years after Krieger helped arrange for Marrero a $10,000 annual pension from Major League Baseball.

Theirs was a special friendship, one of many forged by Krieger, a Vancouver resident who will return to Cuba in late February — his 30th visit there beginning with a 1997 trip related to his job with the British Columbia teachers federation. That trip spawned a love affair with the country and its baseball scene.

Krieger, 65, would go on to found Cuba Ball, a company bringing baseball-mad tourists to the island nation — a venture begun really to enable himself to visit affordably with groups.

With President Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement on renewing diplomatic relations broken off by the United States in 1961, Krieger sees a double-edged sword: Cuba will emerge from U.S.-imposed isolation, but the country’s professional baseball scene could ultimately disappear, like America’s Negro Leagues following the integration of Major League Baseball.

In the near term, he figures, Cuban baseball will remain unchanged, since the country can hardly be expected to allow foreign teams to poach its premier talent — at least not without hefty payments, as in Japan. Individual players, Krieger adds, are unlikely to risk defecting while knowing that renewed diplomacy could prompt Washington’s lifting of an economic blockade, enabling them to legally sign lucrative contracts abroad.

Following Obama’s announcement, MLB released a statement saying that it will monitor whether the policy shift affects “the manner in which [teams] conduct business on issues
related to Cuba.”

Krieger says he sees Cuba as “the largest pool of untapped baseball talent in the world, and no one knows if [the news] will open this pool.” But he fears “the beginning of the end” of a Cuban baseball reality caught in a sweet time warp evoking America of the 1890s. Eventually, Krieger says, Cuban baseball “will become integrated into the international baseball community, which it isn’t now.”

His love for Cuban baseball led him more than a decade ago to join the Society for American Baseball Research, where he recruited like-minded fans for the trips. He’s similarly passionate about family history, frequently conducting research on Jewish genealogy websites. Thanks largely to meticulous records kept by his ancestors, Krieger (his given first name is Ernest) can trace several branches in Poland and Germany back to 1700.

“I can even tell you the name of my grandfather’s mohel,” he quips.

Krieger’s baseball and genealogy interests at times have coincided: His late mother, Ann Kohlberg, grew up in an apartment building at 320 Riverside Drive in Manhattan, across the hall from New York Giants star Mel Ott. Kohlberg’s cousin, Don Taussig, went on to play outfield with the franchise after its move to San Francisco.

While Krieger doesn’t usually seek out Jewish residents or sites while in Cuba, another Jewish traveler, retired professor Oscar Soule, does.

Soule, of Olympia, Wash., who will be traveling with Krieger to Cuba in February, has been to the Caribbean nation five times and makes a point of going to a Havana synagogue on each visit. The draws for him are the baseball games and meetings with government officials, as well as such diamond legends as Omar Linares and Victor Mesa, that wouldn’t happen without Krieger.

Marrero, a 5-foot-5 right-hander who posted a 39-40 record in the majors and made the American League’s All-Star team in 1951 at age 40, benefited from Krieger’s attention in his final years as he lost his eyesight and hearing. Krieger solicited notes of appreciation from the aging pitcher’s American contemporaries, all of whom Marrero fondly remembered. More than 90 letters arrived, and scores more for Marrero’s 100th birthday, including from Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Tommy Lasorda, George Kell and Harmon Killebrew.

“Kit is a darned nice guy who’s helpful and doesn’t expect anything in return,” says Eddie Robinson, a former official with the MLB Players Alumni Association and a Senators teammate of Marrero who played a key role in securing the pension, to which Marrero had not been entitled previously because he wasn’t vested.

Two or three of the four pension payments were delivered by former major leaguer Stan Javier, a resident of the nearby Dominican Republic, Krieger says.

Children playing baseball in the streets of Havana is a common sight.

Children playing baseball in the streets of Havana is a common sight.

Of Krieger, ex-pitcher Steve Rogers, who works for the Major League Baseball Players Association, says he “was always available to do everything he could to help” in the Marrero case.

With Marrero gone, Krieger is seeking to raise $69,000 for new plaques honoring the members of Cuba’s Hall of Fame. Upon hearing Obama’s announcement last week, Krieger asked Cuba Ball clients to make a Marrero plaque the first priority. During the February visit, Krieger plans to begin working to identify a proper building for the Hall, which is now housed in Havana’s Estadio Latinoamerican.

There will be games to attend, too. Cuban baseball games have far more character than the typical corporate stadium American game. Scorecards and souvenirs are not sold, but makeshift bands entertain the fans.

“I went to a game in San Cristobal, in western Cuba,” Krieger recalls. “A guy hits a homer to win the game, gets on his bike to go home and gets stopped by a fan who gives him a live chicken.

“They’d played on a chain-link-fence field. The seats were concrete slabs, and everyone else watched from the beds of pickup trucks. It was not even a sandlot — it was a farm game.

“For the baseball purists,” he says, “those who love to go to Cuba, it’s a unique baseball culture.”

In the Cards

Ari Engel’s favorite poker game is Texas Hold ’Em, where buy-ins can reach $10,000.

Ari Engel’s favorite poker game is Texas Hold ’Em, where buy-ins can reach $10,000.

NEW YORK — Ari Engel is homeless. It’s been a decade since he last held a regular job and two years since he gave up his apartment.But don’t shed any tears for him.

Over the last 10 years or so, Engel has grossed about $5 million playing poker.

The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Engel, 31, has become one of the world’s best professional poker players — ranked No. 23 worldwide by the poker magazine Bluff — and probably the only top-tier player who wears a kipah.

When Engel decided to give up his Toronto apartment in early 2013, it was to go on the road to play the tournament circuit. In November alone, Engel competed in Peru, St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic, where he won $136,500.

“I travel all the time — I’m sort of homeless,” Engel said in a recent phone interview from Atlantic City, N.J., where he was competing. “I’m never in the same place for more than a couple of weeks.”

Traditional Jewish law frowns upon gambling, but Engel, who keeps kosher and often wears his kipah during play, says poker isn’t gambling but a learned skill. He concedes there is an element of chance but no more so than with stock picking.

“To me it’s very unfortunate that poker takes place in casinos. It doesn’t really belong there,” Engel said. “Poker definitely has a lot of things that are beyond one’s control, but it has plenty of things within your control. I don’t gamble at all. I’m trying to get an edge when I play poker, and I try to make a living out of it.”

Sometimes the kipah plays to Engel’s advantage, he says, as it prompts opponents to underestimate his abilities. More commonly, other players or passers-by will drop a little hint — perhaps a greeting in Yiddish or Hebrew — to indicate that they, too, are members of the tribe.

Engel, who bears some resemblance to Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” says he’s never gotten any negative
reactions to his Jewish identity.

At tournaments, Engel prepares like an athlete. He tries to get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy breakfast and work out in the hotel gym. The card playing usually starts at about noon and often runs well past midnight, so stamina is important.

He usually plays Texas Hold ’Em, a game that starts with two cards dealt face down to each player and three common cards face up, known as the flop. Two additional common cards — the turn and the river — are then dealt sequentially as players check, bet, raise or fold. The players start with the same amount of chips — buy-ins typically range from $300 to $10,000 — and remain in the game until the chips are lost.

Competitors who finish in the top 10 to 15 percent usually take home some money, with the champion winning the grand prize of 15 to 25 percent of the total buy-in money.

“Maximizing those top spots can be the difference between having a profitable year and not having a profitable year, so it can definitely be stressful if things don’t go your way,” Engel said.

Engel declined to discuss the particulars of his income, but according to Bluff, his largest in-person career win came a year ago at the Heartland Poker Tour in St. Louis, where he
finished first among 420 entrants and took home $142,125. According to the online poker forum Pocketfives, he also won $187,669 in an online tournament in May.

Being a card-playing itinerant was hardly the life Engel envisioned for himself growing up. Born in Toronto, Engel and his family moved to South Africa before his first birthday and then to Australia, Jerusalem and Annapolis, before ending up in the Chicago area, where Engel attended a yeshiva high school in Skokie, Ill.

Engel was 17 and a high school senior when he played poker for the first time. He continued into his gap year at an Orthodox yeshiva in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion and then in college at New York University.

But it wasn’t until his second year at NYU that he started playing for real money. His roommate, Andrew Brown, was an avid online poker player and took Engel under his wing. Though Engel majored in finance, he found online poker much more compelling.

After graduation, Engel took a regular job, but the online poker he played nights and weekends turned out to be much more lucrative — and exciting. So he quit after a couple of months to try poker full time.

“Finance was not what I wanted to be doing,” Engel said. “I figured I was 21, single and had no real responsibilities, so why not give it a real shot for a few months and see how I did?”

To his surprise, his parents gave their blessing. Soon Engel was making enough money to chip away at the college debt he had accumulated. He started offering online courses in poker strategy. He loved the independence and the freedom from job responsibilities.

Then came April 15, 2011 — Black Friday in the poker world. The U.S. Justice Department issued indictments against the nation’s leading online poker firms and shut down their websites, charging that they had broken Internet gambling laws and engaged in bank fraud and money laundering. Authorities eventually settled with two of the leading poker companies, PokerStars and Full Tilt, but stipulated that they no longer could serve U.S. customers.

That meant Engel, who was living in Las Vegas at the time and primarily playing online, would either have to stop or leave the country.

“Overnight,” he said, “my profession was radically changed.”

Having had the fortune of being born in Canada, Engel obtained a Canadian passport and moved to Toronto. But he hated the winters. By his second January he was ready to give up online poker to play exclusively in live tournaments. Engel packed up his Toronto rental and has been living in hotels ever since, chasing tournaments.

Though he sometimes plays into Shabbat, he always takes off the Jewish holidays, when he usually goes to visit his parents in South Florida. He also has a sister in New York and a brother in Israel.

“I don’t know if I’ll be playing poker forever, but for the time being I will,” Engel said. “I’ve built a little bit of a nest egg, and I have the freedom to follow different opportunities. I just need to keep my eyes and ears open and just be smart about it.

Slow … Quick, Quick, Slow

Baltimore native John Dawson, owner and head instructor of dance StudioDNA in Pikesville, teaches a smooth fox trot and a spicy salsa, but some of his students feel they gain more than improved rhythm and sure footing. More confidence, a sense of accomplishment and feelings of grace and pure joy are also what keeps these students practicing and coming back for more.

“Aside from the health benefits,” said Donna Siegel, 62, an executive at the Social Security Administration, “I feel free when I dance. I feel pretty when I dance. I feel graceful, it just feels good.”

Thirteen years ago, Siegel and her husband wanted to dance at their son’s bar mitzvah and started taking lessons. Her husband’s interest fell off after several years, but he encouraged Siegel to continue on her own. Now she can’t imagine a life without dance and, with lessons three times a week in addition to gym visits, massage and acupuncture, she’s also managed to stave off surgery for her spinal stenosis.

Siegel dances fox trot, waltz, salsa, merengue, cha-cha, rumba and tango, but swing is her favorite. She recently danced in a competition with Dawson and won for her age group and dance level. But there are days, she said, that she’s very challenged, such as when she recently worked on a difficult tuck turn. But, she added, “other times when we get in the zone, it’s beautiful. You’re almost outside yourself, listening to the music and moving. … You’re just dancing, it’s pure joy.”

Dawson said clients come to dance for many reasons. It may be in anticipation of a wedding or other event or simply to spend time as a couple. Or clients may be working through an illness or even the loss of a spouse or child.

“But at least for an hour’s worth of time,” said Dawson, “you can get involved in music and movement and forget everything around you.”

Dawson first worked as a mental health administrator at Sheppard Pratt hospital but was laid off after a few years, which, he says, was really a godsend. He answered a dance instruction ad and began formalized training; fortunately, he had a base of many hours spent onstage dancing and singing through high school and college.

He opened StudioDNA in 1994, and now, at an almost perpetually-in-motion 45 years old, he teaches students from ages 7 to 87 and has the reputation of being able to coax and coddle a saucy cha-cha move out of a stiff student. But he also doesn’t shrink from pointing out —sometimes very bluntly — a step that isn’t working, a directive he may deliver with gesticulating arms and a perfect Brooklyn Jewish mother accent.

“Sometimes we’re laughing so hard during the lessons,” said Siegel, “that we’re having trouble dancing and we’re standing there laughing ‘til we cry, and we have to serious up a little bit.

“Other times, when we get in the zone, it’s beautiful. You’re almost outside yourself, listening to the music and moving. You’re just dancing … it’s pure joy.”

Often, people start dance lessons because of the “glitz and the lights,” said Dawson, referencing the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” “and then you get down to the fact that it’s a lot of dedication, it’s a lot of work. But it’s a lot of fun as well, even if I have to smack someone on the tuchas once in a while [to get them] back on track.”

StudioDNA, which has a second location in Canton, is dedicated to providing safe and comfortable spaces where people can go to move and learn, not feel judged, and be able to laugh at themselves, Dawson said.

Liza Massouda and Patty Simmons also teach with Dawson, and Simmons has been working with her client, Steve Levin, since May.

Levin, a youthful and physically fit 70-year-old, was the primary caretaker to his father, Jake, for more than 20 years. He met Simmons at the Envoy nursing home where their fathers were resident roommates. Over a few years, their friendship grew, and Simmons occasionally suggested he take lessons. But Levin always balked at the idea. Then Levin’s father passed away in March 2014.

“Patty called me maybe a month or six weeks after that and asked me if
I would be interested in trying ballroom dancing,” recalled Levin, who has danced zydeco. “I think somehow she knew it would be a good thing for me, maybe before I knew it.”

He added, “I had the time and was inclined to give it a try, to help with my grief. You can get lost in dancing, you can transcend the moment.”

Seven months into his ballroom lessons, Levin danced a waltz in a showcase at StudioDNA, an event at which students and instructors perform routines for invited family and friends. Levin appreciates the connection he feels with his instructor and other dancers and the sense of levity that pervades the studio, even when improvement is the goal.

“I remember one time after I made a dance move, Patty said, ‘Steve, maybe you should take that look of horror off of your face.’ It was funny, but she was right,” he said, laughing. “I’ve learned to relax my face when I dance, it was a good tip.”

Dawson prides himself in the ability to meet people where they are in terms of how they learn. He may simply demonstrate a step for someone to mimic but can break it down to the mathematical and mechanical elements as well. Dawson also offers group lessons that Marge and Roy Deutschman, both 67, have taken for six years with their friends, Berly and Avi Hershkovitz.

“For us, it’s a date night,” said Roy Deutschman. “It keeps us young, fresh and vibrant and all those things old people need to be. It’s exercise and socialization, and we have a lot of fun with John — we kibbitz, dance and yell at each other.”

Marge Deutschman added, “I feel like a princess, I feel like Ginger Rogers. Anybody can dance with John; he just makes you feel so good. And after every session I thank him for making me feel that way.”

Roy Deutschman said he’s amazed that if needed, John can just grab him and “take the role of the woman” in order to address a step that needs correction. Marge Deutschman said dancing regularly helps her get through some of life’s trying times, and it’s helped with her attitude too.

“It gives me a lot of security to know that I’ve mastered dance,” she said. “I feel confident in the things I do. I just retired, and that took a lot of confidence.”

Siegel admitted it didn’t come naturally for her to let someone else lead, even on the dance floor.

“It’s been a lesson for me to let somebody else be in charge,” she said. “Sometimes I do just need to shut up and let somebody tell me a different way to learn something. And that’s kind of a life lesson. Dance is kind of a microcosm of everything.”